Under Milk Wood (Makeup)

1 Jun

I have not personally been a big fan of Dylan Thomas’ genius and after reading about the fictitious characters of Llareggub, in Under Milk Wood, my disposition on Thomas remains unchanged. I understand that Dylan Thomas is essentially deified in the minds of literary scholars for his past works, intricate phrasing and love of alliteration, but if any of his other works are like the radio play Under Milk Wood, I have a hard time seeing how he became so renowned for his poetical potential. I did not like the radio play because it was extremely random and many characters were introduced only to have one line or very few lines. Juxtaposing Dylan Thoma’s Under Milk Wood to how I would conceive a play, Under Milk Wood lacks a true plot that is developed with significant characters dispersed throughout and integral to the story being told.

The plot of Under Milk Wood, or purpose, if one exists, is to showcase a small Welsh village, characterized by overtly dramatic, hypersexual, and interesting individuals that tie in to the 3rd Programme’s ideals of “high-brow” entertainment. We are brought into the world of Llareggub via a ship captain who goes by the name of Cat. He is a blind man, and he serves as a vehicle to the audience to help “transport” the listener into the Welsh ways of the town. Captain Cat has a very keen memory and hypersensitive senses because of his lack of sight, thus, he describes his world to the listener through the best faculty for a radio, sound. Captain Cat knows who is arriving at what time and for who based on daily routines of the mailman and his close neighbors (p47). Because he is blind, the audience automatically establishes a connection between themselves and the Captain because neither one can see the world of Llareggub, accordingly it must be described via sound.

One thing that did catch my eye and alleviate the stress of such a play was the interesting names and personalities Thomas gave to the characters of the city. Dylan Thomas, for some but not all characters, named the individual by their disposition or demeanor in the story. For instance, Polly Garter is an extremely promiscuous woman. She sings about “Tom, Dick, And Harry” whom she has had relations with all, and uses evocative phrases such as “Two yards long, three feet thick… and as sweet as a cherry” to describe their sexual abilities and endowments (p60). She even expresses that she will “never have such loving again” (p73). Another interesting case occurred through the clean freak Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard. She is so obsessed with cleanliness because one of her husbands died from bacteria. She thinks of her dead husband and has conversations with him. The list of interesting characters goes on from Gossamer Beynon, the beautiful schoolteacher and Nogood Boyo the adolescent menace, to Miss Price who sells her “sweets” to men of all ages.

Dylan Thomas uses the convention of making people’s names fit how they act in the radio play for two reasons. The first reason is to make it easier for the audience to follow along at home. If someone was not carefully paying attention but heard a song about many men and their abilities, one could easily deduce that Miss Garter was speaking. Or if the listener simply hears a lot of sounds and a man describing what he is hearing, one can relay the information said back to Captain Cat. Another reason for this is because it makes the story flow a lot easier by giving the characters trivial names than actual surnames and histories. This allows the listener to take in information without extra mental activity to decode whom this person is, where they are coming from, and why they are important to the story. Dylan Thomas incorporates a multitude of characters into this work and not all of them have important dialogue, so attributing them a full name would only complicate the fairly straightforward but somewhat confusing story even more.

Death was also a prevalent motif in Under Milk Wood. Captain Cat dreams of his dead sailors who were at sea with him once upon a time, Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard thinks about her dead husbands constantly and Polly Garter also thinks of a past lover, Willy Wee who died. The play begins and ends at night and the references to death could represent the full circle of life that each member of the play has come in contact with at one point of their life or another. 

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